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Sermon on Lord's Day 52b of the Heidelberg Catechism by Rev C Bouwman held on Sunday afternoon, 1 October 2000.
Text:
Lordís Day 52  Q&A 128-129

128. Q. How do you conclude your prayer?
A. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. That is: All this we ask of Thee because, as our King, having power over all things, Thou art both willing and able to give us all that is good,[1] and because not we but Thy holy Name should so receive all glory for ever.[2]
[1] Rom. 10:11-13; II Pet 2:9. [2] Ps. 115:1; Jer. 33:8, 9; John 14:13.

129. Q. What does the word Amen mean?
A. Amen means: It is true and certain. For God has much more certainly heard my prayer than I feel in my heart that I desire this of Him.[1]
[1] Is. 65:24; II Cor. 1:20; II Tim. 2:13.

Scripture Reading:
Deuteronomy 27:11-26
Luke 11:1-13

Singing:  (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise" Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Psalm 40:7
Psalm 66:8
Psalm 6:5,6
Psalm 116:1,2,3,4
Psalm 106:23,24 & Hymn 47:10

Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!

Weíve spent a number of weeks with the Lordís instruction on how to pray. Weíve considered what the Lord taught when He instructed us to address God as ĎFatherí, considered what the Lord taught too when He gave us the six petitions of the Lordís prayer. Weíve learned that central to pray needs to be God and not ourselves, His glory and not our reputation, His kingdom and not our kingdoms, His will and not our wishes. For us to do His will (and so acknowledge His kingship and in turn hallow His name), we need daily bread, the strength and wherewithal to act in obedience to His commands in the specific circumstances of each day, yes, each changing minute. But we misuse His gifts, we sin, and that hinders prayer, and so we need to ask God to forgive those sins. And Satan keeps attacking us, keeps seeking to trip us up so that we donít do Godís will, donít acknowledge His kingship, and so donít glorify His name. Hence the instruction to ask the Father to deliver us from the evil one. Thatís the material we heard in the weeks gone by.

Now a question for you, beloved. After listening to all that instruction from our Lord and Savior, do you think that your praying has improved? Now that the Lord has told us what to speak about to our heavenly Father, do you approach the throne of grace with more confidence? Specifically, do you find that God hears you?

Weíd like to think that the answer is Yes. In fact, we know that the answer should be Yes, because of what Jesus said in Luke 11: "Ask, and it will be given to you." But the hard reality is that we have asked, and weíve not receivedÖ. Though weíve besought the Lord this past week with tears, loved ones have hardened themselves on paths of sin, and other loved ones have not returned to the Lord and His service. Though weíve pleaded with God this week so frequently for understanding from others, for love from the spouse, the parents, the children, for the grace to accept what God has given, have prayed for relief from aches and pains, for fulfilment in daily work, God has not granted all our petitions. And really, that gets us down. Then we find it fine to receive instruction about how to pray, but the simple fact is that we still do not receive all we ask for. So the drive to keep on praying evaporatesÖ.

We come today to the end of the Lordís instruction to His disciples about how to pray. The Lord tells us (itís recorded in Mt 6, not in Luke 11) to end our prayers with the little word "Amen". With that little word, congregation, the Lord would impress on us that Yes, we may keep on coming to God with great confidence; "God has much more certainly heard my prayer than I feel in my heart that I desire this of Him." The Lord, you see, would teach us to keep on praying Ė with confidence.

I summarize the sermon with this theme:

WITH THE WORD ĎAMENí JESUS TELLS US TO CONFESS OUR CONVICTION THAT GOD HEARS AND ANSWERS.

  1. The meaning of the term ĎAmení.
  2. The encouragement of the term ĎAmení.

The meaning of the term ĎAmení.

We are used to ending our prayers with the word ĎAmení. But what, congregation, does that word mean? Weíve got children in the congregation in grade 1, grade 2, grade 3. You end your prayers too with the word Ďamení. Whatís it mean? Can you tell me, boys and girls? I think that youíre thinking it means Ďthe endí, or something like that. When you hear Dad say ĎAmení it means heís done; now itís your turn to pray. Or you can open your eyesÖ.

But the word Ďamení doesnít mean Ďthe endí or ĎIím doneí, or something like that. The word "Amen", isnít even an English word. Itís Hebrew; in our Bibles itís not been translated. What it means? Letís look for a moment in Genesis 15. The passage tells us of Abram; in time past he had been told that he would have a child, but as the years went by no child arrived. So Abram took his concern to God Ė vss 2 & 3. God responded by taking him outside and showing him the stars and said, "so [many] shall your descendants be" (vs 5). Then we read these words: Abram "believed in the Lord." The Hebrew, though, says that Abram "amened" in the Lord. Thereís the meaning of the word "amen"; the word means ĎI believeí. God spoke, and Abram accepted Godís word for true and fact, accepted that God was dinkum in what He said; things would certainly happen as God promised. You see, with the word "amen" Abram indicated his conviction that God would surely do as He had just said He would do. Here weíve got a taste of what Amen means; with the word Amen one gives expression to oneís heartfelt conviction that what the previous speaker has said will surely come to pass.

We read together from Dt 27. The Levites received here instruction to declare that any man who committed this or that sin was to be cursed, and the listening people were commanded Ėno less than 12 timesĖ to respond with that word ĎAmen (cf also Num 5:22; Neh 5:13). The fact that the people were told to say Ďamení tells us that the word captures, expresses the reaction God wished the people to have to these curses. On the basis of what we learned from Gen 15 we understand that the word "amen" was obviously not to convey simply the notion that the people accepted the curses upon possible sins, as if this Amen was simply an equivalent to "alright, OK, weíll accept that". No, on the basis of what we learned from Gen 15, we understand that with the word ĎAmení the people were instructed to confess their faith, to express their heartfelt conviction that God would certainly do as He had promised to do. God made a promise to Abram in Gen 15 about children; Abram responded to that promise by believing it, holding those words for true and certain Ė God would surely do as He said He would do. God made a promise to Israel in Dt 27 about curses; Israel was to respond to that promise by believing it, holding those words for true and certain Ė God would surely do as He said He would do.

As it is, congregation, the word ĎAmení does not appear in our Bibles only to indicate the response of a person or people to the curses of another. The word appears also as oneís response to words of praise one has just heard. We may consider Davidís song of gratitude on the occasion of the ark being brought to Jerusalem. Said David:

"Save us, O God of our salvation...,
[that we may] give thanks to Your holy name,
to triumph in Your praise.
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting!"

And whatís the response of the people? We read this: "and all the people said ĎAmení" (I Chron 16:35f). Elsewhere we read these words: "Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. Then all the people answered, ĎAmen, Amení..." (Neh 8:6).

Here is praise for God, and in both these cases those who hear these words of praise voice their Amen, voice that Amen in order to express their conviction that Yes, itís true, God is to be blessed from everlasting to everlasting, the Lord is the great God. You see, this Amen is again a confession of faith; the hearers profess that the words spoken are true and shall always be true Ė God is blessed and God is great now and always. "Amen."

The NT uses this same word "Amen" in the same way. I think of the well-known words of Rom 11:

"for of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory for ever. Amen" (vs 36; cf Rom 9:5; Gal 1:5; Eph 3:21; etc).

And of those words from Rev 5:

"...every creature ... I heard saying,
ĎBlessing and honor and glory and power
Be to Him who sits on the throne,
And to the Lamb, forever and ever!í"

and the four living creatures responded with "Amen" (vs 13f). Time and again a statement is made about the greatness and the glory of God, and repeatedly the word "Amen" follows those words of praise, follows it to give expression to oneís faith that Yes, those words of praise are so true, so correct; I believe that God is great, all glorious.

This is the word, brothers and sisters, that the Lord told us to add to our prayers. What the meaning is of that word? It certainly does not mean something like "this is The End of my prayer." The Biblical meaning of the word instead teaches us that with this word Jesus wants us to profess our faith, wants us to express our conviction that the words just prayed are so very true, shall come to pass.

That brings us to our second point,

The encouragement of the term ĎAmení

Why, brothers and sisters, does Jesus teach us to use this term at the end of our prayers? Why are we to profess faith when weíve come to the end of what weíre saying to God, profess our conviction that the words we pray are true and certain, shall come to pass?

Letís be honest; when somebody speaks words of praise to God and then says "amen", says ĎI believe that God is truly Godí, yes, we find that understandable. But our prayers are not simply thanksgiving and praise; our prayers, according to the command of Christ Himself, include also many requests. And thatís where we have a problem. What does Amen mean after a number of petitions have been brought to God? Does that word at this point also give voice to our heartfelt belief that the words spoken are true and certain; God will certainly do as we have asked? No, we find that rather far-fetched; we donít feel comfortable being convinced that weíll get what we ask. After all, over the years weíve asked so much, and still havenít received itÖ.

Itís to be clear in our minds and hearts, brothers and sisters, that the word "Amen", also in our prayers, always is and remains a profession of faith, of faith in God. That may be obvious to us about prayers of praise, but itís equally true also of prayers that are made up mostly of petitions, requests.

How so? With that word Amen in the context of a prayer of request, weíre expressing our conviction that God will give us what we ask. We express that conviction because God has promised to give us what we ask. With that word ĎAmení at the end of our prayers, we are responding to Godís promise to answer our petitions. With that word ĎAmení, we are voicing our faith that God will answer our prayers, just as He has promised.

Before you protest in disbelief, before you tell me that God has definitely not given to you all youíve asked, I remind you of the words of Jesus in Luke 11. Said He in vs 9:

"And I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened" (vs 9f).

Jesusí language is clear: ask and we shall receive. But the Lord would not have us ask for anything that may fancy our sinful minds. Those words about asking and receiving were spoken in a specific context, and that context is that of vs 1: the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, to which request Jesus answered by giving the Lordís Prayer. But the Lordís Prayer wasnít the limit of Jesusí answer; in the verses that follow, the Lord told the twelve to pray with the conviction that God would give what His people asked. Thatís the point of the parable about the Midnight Friend who will surely rise and give whatever his visitor needs. Then follows the lesson for the disciples: "So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you" (vs 9).

No, the disciples were not to ask for just anything and expect to get it; the disciples were to ask for the things that Jesus in the Lordís Prayer commanded them to ask. The promise of the Saviour in Luke 11 is that whatever is asked of God in accordance with the Lordís Prayer will certainly be granted; whatever falls within the framework of those petitions the Father in heaven will certainly give to His children.

See, congregation, the petitions Jesus instructs His children to pray are more than petitions; the petitions of the Lordís Prayer are also promises, promises that God will grant these specific things to those who ask Him for these. That, by brothers and sisters, is the notion we echo when we say "Amen" at the end of our prayers. With that word we express our hearty conviction, our faith, that God will surely grant the things He commanded us to ask. He told us to ask that His name be hallowed, and so we pray, "Hallowed be Your Name, Amen". And thatís to say: Father, make Your name more glorious still, and we are sure You will do that. Jesus told us to ask God for strength to do His will, and so we pray, "Your will be done, Amen." With that we say that we believe, are firmly convinced, that Father will give us what we need to do His will. Jesus told us to ask God to keep us from the evil one, and so we pray, "Father, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one, Amen." With that word Ďamení we express our conviction that the Lord will most certainly grant what we ask; He will deliver us from Satan. Weíre certain because we hold God to His word; "ask," He said, " and it will be given to you."

Why might it be that we can be so convinced that God will give us what we ask, will give us what He promised to give us? That, brothers and sisters, is because of who God is. Said Jesus of Himself: I am "the Amen" (Rev 3:14). And the point of that title is that every word spoken by Jesus Christ is believe-able; whatever He says Heíll do, He certainly will do. It was with that very truth that Jesus worked time and again in His public ministry; repeatedly He called attention to His words by saying (and I quote the old King James Version), "verily, verily, I say to you" (cf Jn 16:23). Or, as Jesus actually said in the original: "Amen, amen, I say to you." Believe-able He was. And thatís why the words He spoke in Luke 11 are also believable; we can accept them for true and certain, we can expect to receive what we ask for simply because Jesus said that God would give what we request.

In this context we are to remember that the many promises God had made to Israel in the past, promises of blessings and promises of curses, were all ultimately fulfilled in the Son, Jesus Christ. As promised in the Old Testament, He came to pay for sin, to be rejected of God, to undergo Godís hellish wrath, to die. Though it was not easy for the Father to give up His only dearly beloved Son for the suffering of the cross, He yet gave Him up, sent Him Ėwhy?Ė because He had promised to do so. Christ Himself is ultimately the evidence that God is true (Is 65:16), that His word is believable, that He will do as He said He will do. God had promised the Christ so long ago, and did what He said Heíd do. Thatís why the apostle Paul can say of Jesus: "For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen" (II Cor 1:20).

We believe that God has fulfilled His Word, has sent His Son into the world to atone for our sins, to reconcile us to God, to make us children of God. But beloved, if God has given us so much in Christ, if Ėas Paul saysĖ He "did not spare His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Rom 8:32). Thatís the promise we have, a promise that comes from the mouth of God as certainly as that promise about children for Abram came from the mouth of God. Abram believed the Lordís word, Ďamenedí that word; it is for us to do the same, to believe His promise, to say "Amen" to those promises. Heís promised daily bread? Then we believe the promise. Weíll ask for daily bread, and as soon as weíve asked for it weíll say Amen, weíll confess our conviction that we shall surely receive the daily bread we need, shall definitely receive all we need to live for God and His glory. Weíll say it because weíre convinced that God is going to keep His promise, is going to give to me what I ask. After all, He is God, my Father for Christís sake.

Still, we experience the reality as so differentÖ. We ask, and donít receiveÖ. I put to you, congregation, two scenarios from Scripture in relation to unanswered prayer. The first is the Lordís instruction in James 4. James is moved by the Holy Spirit to write the following words:

"You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures" (vs 3).

The whole drift of Jesusí instruction in the Lordís prayer had been that our speaking with God needs to be God-centered, and not self-centered. That is why the Lord told us to ask that Godís name be hallowed, His kingdom be made to come, His will be done. The other three petitions Ėour daily bread, forgiveness for our sins, deliverance for us from the evil one- also do not have us in the center, but God; we ask for daily bread, for forgiveness of sins, for deliverance from the evil one so that we can do Godís will in our circumstances Ė and so in turn give Him the glory that is His due. As Jesus also taught us at the end of our prayer; "for Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory." God-centered. If, now, we come into Godís presence with ourselves in the center of our thoughts (and therefore of our prayers), shall we really expect God to answer, to give us what we ask? Not at all, beloved! Not even if we coat our selfishness with a veneer of, ĎLord, then we can serve you better.í Whatever we ask has to have God in the center, not ourselves. Then we may be sure that the Lord will certainly hear our prayer and supply our needs. Otherwise the words of James hold true,

"You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures" (vs 3).

The second scenario I refer to is Paulís prayer in II Cor 12. Paul, I read, "pleaded with the Lord three times that [the thorn which bothered him so] might depart" from him. No doubt, Paul was convinced that without this thorn in the flesh he could better do the task God gave him in His kingdom as preacher of the gospel. But Godís answer was this:

"My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness" (vs 9).

In other words, Paulís request for relief was denied. Does that fly in the face of Jesusí promise in Luke 11, the promise we echo when we use the word Ďamení? No, it doesnít. Listen again to Godís answer:

"My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness" (vs 9).

Notice: itís an answer that has Godís own glory in the center. Paulís weakness, says God, is going to point up more the strength of God. Thatís why Paul adds in response to this answer:

" Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (vs 9).

Central to Paul is not the question of whether his head hurts or whether he has no bed to sleep on or whether heís forever being spoken evil of by those who oppose the gospel. Central to Paul is not himself, but his God. And if this God is pleased to supply different daily bread to Paul than Paul wishes (so that Paul can still do the will of God, to the greater glory of the King of kings), then who is Paul to argue with that; he knows, he believes, that God is granting him what he needs and wants since basic to his wants is the glory of God!

Hereís for us the instruction too. Do we get what we want? If our thoughts and wishes revolve around ourselves, no, beloved, we may not count on getting what we want or think we need. And so we havenít got the right to end our prayers with the word Ďamení either! But when our thoughts and wishes revolve around God and His glory, we certainly can count on receiving what we ask, for the essence of what we ask is the glory of God. So we can Ėand must- end our prayer with Ďamení also; weíre confessing our conviction that God will supply us with all we need to make His name more glorious still.

So it is, brothers and sisters, that the child of God whose heart is set on the glory of the God who showed him such mercy may come to God so boldly, so confidently. He knows, God hears, God answers. In truth, "God has much more certainly heard my prayer than I feel in my heart that I desire this of Him." And I believe that God will grant me all I need to glorify His name.  Amen.